The hall was not full but, at the end, it didn’t matter because we all had a great time.
There was a sense of it being a family gathering. There was a close familial feel to the proceedings moderated by Kene Mrakpu, owner of Filmone, the Nigerian distributor for ‘Half of a Yellow Sun.’
In the house were journalists and writers; Steve Ayorinde, Hussein Shuaibu, Niran Adedokun, Peju Akande, Lola Itayemi, Anote Ajeluoro, as well as blogger, Olori Supergal. The tribe was represented.
The occasion was the sneak preview of the hugely anticipated movie adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestselling and award winning novel, Half of Yellow, directed by novelist and filmmaker, Biyi Bandele.
The movie had received its fair share of speculations – it cost too much, they didn’t use Nigerian actors, Genevieve had just a few seconds of screen time, it won’t make money, it was too faithful to the novel. The naysaying has been nasty and bitter despite the fact that not many of those slagging it off had seen it; despite the fact that it received a standing ovation after screening in Toronto and despite the fact that it was the first Nigerian film to get on the official screening list at the Toronto film festival.
Yewande Sadiku, investment banker and Executive producer of the movie was there. Dressed in her day time uniform of a trouser suit, she was ushered on stage by Kene Mrakpu to tell the audience how the movie was made.
She spoke from the heart, now self-deprecating, the next moment serious, as she talked about how her indifference towards the making of the movie of a book published by her husband, the architect turned banker turned publisher, Muhtar Bakare of Kachifo Books, became almost an obsession as she battled and tackled the odds to make it happen.
It was a very emotional recounting detailing her journey from banker to film producer. She spoke for all of 43 minutes about how the film could have cost less and how they could have gotten incentives if they had shot in South Africa but they insisted on shooting in Calabar because as she said “we wanted authenticity.”
Sadiku spoke about the controversy generated when Thandie Newton was revealed as the actress to play Olanna. “People said she didn’t look Igbo enough, but we were making a movie that had to sell. We were looking at the commercial value of the actors,” she said highlighting a fact that many of us forget, which is that even though it might be a show, there is still a business side to it.
Yewande Sadiku said her task was to translate “artistic value into commercial value.” The book had been translated, she said, “into 30 languages and sold a million copies world wide” but there was still a need to make the movie commercially viable.
Raising money was hellish, she told her audience even though what she was looking to raise was just about $12m, less than ten percent of the $1bn dollars she had recently raised.
As an investment banker, she felt stunned because she couldn’t find a way, she said, to sell the move to investors in the language she was used to. Past commercial success on a movie did not guarantee future success nor funding for that matter.
While she was still trying to crack the puzzle, a fellowship came and during her 7 weeks in America as an Eisenhower Fellow, she took time out to study the filmmaking process and how it is funded and sold.
In the end she said, no one would invest in her movie and so she and her husband had to pitch in all they had and it was a shock she said to” find out that after working for over 16 years we weren’t worth very much. Friends with money whom we thought would help did not but there were a few angels along the way.”
The movie was finally made at a cost of about $10m which would make “Half of Yellow Sun” the most expensive movie made in Nigeria but no more than an independent film in the US.
Distribution rights have been sold as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, The US and the UK, Portugal, the Middle East and Nigeria.
Half a yellow Sun, the movie, opens in the UK on April 11 and in Nigeria on April 25. It already opened this week in Australia.
You must go and watch it because it is a valuable piece of Nigeria’s cinema history. It will teach you and touch you in many ways and with 2015 approaching and rabble-rousers banging on the drums of war, this love story set in a time of war will give you perspective. War is evil but love conquers all.
When I read the novel, I was upset that it had been marketed, mostly, as a book about the Biafran war. It was not. It was a love story set in a time of war. At the core of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is love, lust, loss and the healing power of forgiveness.
The movie is a cinematic delight. Running for about two hours, it proceeds on a jaunty pace from scenes of celebration in the home of the rich where a lecherous federal minister tries, without much tact, to get Olanna into his bed. When he fails he turns to her twin sister, “What about you Kainene?” The ishi agu clad Wale Ojo asks with a reptilian smirk.
Kainene’s reply tells us who she is from the get go. “What about me, indeed.”
The corrupting influence of money and the need to get on by all means is on full display because sitting on either side of the minister, Olanna and Kainene’s parents are clearly aware of the minister’s intentions.
At the beginning, the sisters are carefree, happy, close and friendly but as the movie progresses events, which those who have read the book will remember, impinge on their relationship and it is a telling moment when Kainene says to her sister “There are some things that are so unforgivable, they make other things easy.”
Biyi who wrote the screen play and directed the movie has interpreted the novel along the lines of a love story rather than a war story and so the carnage of war is not presented in its brutal intensity. Sure, there are bombs falling and in a brilliant scene of perfect editing, a bomb goes off as the newly wed are about to cut their cake, but mostly the war is conveyed to us through, as Kaine Agary wrote in Yellow Yellow “voices on the radio” and frenzied scenes of those fleeing the carnage.
A movie can never approximate to the intensity of a novel because it is a visual medium and in many ways a translation. The novel, as scripted narrative demands the investment of the reader’s imagination. That is where its beauty lies and great is the director who can aspire to that alchemy.
The Casting Director, Jina Jay did a good job with fitting actor to character. Onyeka Onwenu shines in the movie as Odenigbo’s mother Mama. There is no stopping her from the moment she says to Olanna “I hear you did not suck your mother’s breast” to when she refuses to leave with her son asking him in words that have the fresh ring of the Igbo language: “When you said we should leave did you hear me say O?”
Genevieve Nnaji is feisty and vivacious as the Yoruba lecturer, Ms. Adebayo; Thandie Newton nails it as Olanna and Chiwetel Ejiofor is spot on as the fiery and denunciatory revolutionary whose ardour is doused by war.
But the young British actor, John Boyega is the most amazing and nails the Igbo accent pat. Who would believe he was the same person in ‘Attack the Block’ with his heavy Cockney accent and does he look a shade bit lighter here?
Anika Noni Rose doesn’t miss a beat as the irreverent Kainene. She is sexy and carefree and living for the now.
AMVCA winner. OC Ukeje, unfortunately, has a very small part.
Biyi Bandele’s interpretation works; the movie sails swiftly aided by an amazing editor in the person of Chris Gill. Two shots stand out – the opening scene where the camera drops from the roof to the dining area and the shot in Abba in the seamless transition from Mama to Odenigbo with Olanna not shifting in her seat.
This is a film that may well become the standard in terms of sound, picture and all round technical quality (AMVCA awards 2015 anyone) and hopefully, if Yewande Sadiku and her co-producers make their money back, the era of big budget Nollywood movies would have arrived and finally for those wondering why Biyi Bandele, a writer was chosen to direct this movie, well shut it – he learnt the game formally under Danny Boyle, the man who gave us Trainspotting and 28 days Later and Slumdog millionaire and Trance.
At the end of the viewing, as the audience clapped for Yewande Sadiku as she prepared to take questions from the crowd, one thing stood out clearly; all things had come together for good for her and her movie because as she put it, ”Just as we were about to put out this movie Chiwetel Ejiofor’s career took off with the Oscar nominations and Bafta win. If anyone had scripted it, we wouldn’t have believed it.”